Better Living Avoiding This Chemistry: An Industrial Toxic Primer

Haz mat suit - picnic tableEven though this EcoNews article is about air poisons that result from fossil fuel production, it applies to just about any combustion source, including cement plants, manufacturing plants, vehicles, and so on. It's a pretty good top ten list, although you wonder why Dioxins and Furans got left off, since they're toxic by the gram instead of pound. Also missing is Particulate Matter as a stand alone threat, although it gets a shout out as a by-product. Nevertheless, these are the among the most dangerous pollutants that have caused and are still causing a lot of problems in North Texas and elsewhere:

1. Benzene

Benzene is a well-established carcinogen with specific links to leukemia as well as breast and urinary tract cancers. Exposure to benzene reduces red and white blood cell production in bone marrow; decreases auto-immune cell function (T-cell and B-cells); and has been linked to sperm-head abnormalities and generalized chromosome aberrations.

Benzene is one of the largest-volume petrochemical solvents used in the fossil fuel industry. It is a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal and gas. People are exposed to it from inhaling automobile exhaust and gasoline fumes, industrial burning such as oil and coal combustion, and exposure to fracking fluids.

There's a recent Emory University study concluding that risk for leukemia fell with every mile between a person's home and facilities that release benzene.

2. & 3. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are two primary examples of particle-forming air pollutants (particulate matter). Particulate matter is known to contribute to serious health problems, including lung cancer and other cardiopulmonary mortality. SO2 and NOx are both highly toxic to human health, and contribute directly to thousands of hospitalizations, heart attacks and deaths annually.

SO2 is particularly dangerous for children. Studies correlate SO2 emissions from petroleum refineries—even in lower exposure levels over time —to higher rates of childhood asthma in children who live or attend school in proximity to those refineries. Similarly, small particles of NOx can penetrate deeply into sensitive lung tissue and damage it, causing premature death in extreme cases. Inhalation of such particles is associated with emphysema and bronchitis.

4. Petroleum Coke (Pet Coke)

Pet coke is a by-product of oil processing that's also used as a fuel. It's a heavy dust which resembles coal. It's burned in power plants and cement plants. It contains dozens of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals, including chromium, vanadium, sulfur and selenium. It's a huge contributor to particulate mater and NOx and SOx formation 

5. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde is highly toxic regardless of method of intake. It is a potent allergen and genotoxin. Studies have linked spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, low birth weights, infertility and endometriosis to formaldehyde exposure. Epidemiological studies link exposure to formaldehyde to DNA alteration. It is also contributes to ground-level ozone.

Independent studies,  have detected dangerous levels of formaldehyde in both wastewater and ambient air emissions from fracking operations. One researcher, with the Houston Advanced Research Center, said reading from one test site in North Texas, “astoundingly high,” and, “I’ve never heard of ambient (formaldehyde) concentrations that high… except in Brazil.”

6. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

In actuality, this is not a single listing—polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is an entire class of toxic chemicals, linked together by their unique chemical structure and reactive properties.

Many PAHs are known human carcinogens and genetic mutagens. In addition, there are particular prenatal health risks: prenatal exposure to PAHs is linked to childhood asthma, low birth weight, adverse birth outcomes including heart malformations and DNA damage.

Additionally, recent studies link exposure to childhood behavior disorders; researchers from Columbia University, in a 2012 Columbia University study, found a strong link between prenatal PAH exposure and early childhood depression. Infants found to have elevated PAH levels in their umbilical cord blood were 46% more likely to eventually score highly on the anxiety/depression scale than those with low PAH levels in cord blood. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

7.  Mercury

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin emitted from coal-fired power plants and any other combustion source using coal for fuel – like the Midlothian cement plants. It damages the brain and the nervous system either through inhalation, ingestion or contact with the skin. It is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children. It is known to disrupt the development of the in-vitro brain. In low doses, mercury may affect a child’s development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span, and causing learning disabilities. High dose prenatal and infant exposures to mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. In adults, mercury poisoning can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure regulation and can cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and numbness of the fingers and toes.

One out of every six women of childbearing age in the U.S. have blood mercury levels that could be harmful to a fetus, according to EPA reports. The EPA estimates that  300,000 children are born each year at risk for significant development disorders due to mercury exposure.

8. Silica (Silicon Dust/Sand)

Crystalline silica (“frac sand”) is a known human carcinogen; breathing silica dust can lead to silicosis, a form of lung disease with no cure. This is a hazard in the cement industry and threat to those living downwind of cement plants, and now it appears to be one for natural gas roughnecks and adjacent homeowners as well.

Silica is commonly used, in huge amounts, during fracking operations. Each stage of the process requires hundreds of thousands of pounds of silica quartz–containing sand. Millions of pounds may be used for a single well.

The presence of silica in fracking operations, simply put, is a major safety risk with a high likelihood of dangerous exposure. Case in point: researchers from the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently collected air samples at 11 fracking sites in five different “fracking states” (CO, ND, PA, TX and AR) to evaluate worker exposure to silica. Every single site had measures higher than the NIOSH threshold for safe exposureso high, in fact, that about one-third of the samples collected were even above the safe threshold for wearing a safety respirator mask. This was reported in May 2013 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

9. Radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas which causes lung cancer. It is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking. About 20,000 people per year die from lung cancer attributed to radon exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. Further, there is no known threshold below which radon exposures carries no risk.

Radon exposure can come from a variety of natural sources. However, fracking (natural gas) represents a significant new and increased source of radon exposure to millions of citizens. Radon is released into local groundwater and air during fracking operations. It also travels through pipelines to the point of use—be it a power plant or a home kitchen.

The science behind radon release and exposure is complex but explained well here by Christopher Busby, the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who warns that radon dangers from fracking “have not been addressed properly (or at all) by the environmental impact statements published by the operators, or by the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA.”

10. Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) / Hydrogen Fluoride

Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is “one of the most dangerous acids known.” HF can immediately damage lungs, leading to chronic lung disease; contact on skin penetrates to deep tissue, including bone, where it alters cellular structure. HF can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through skin.

The senior laboratory safety coordinator at the University of Tennessee said, “Hydrofluoric Acid is an acid like no other. It is so potent that contact with it may not even be noticed until long after serious damage has been done.”

Hydrofluoric Acid is a common ingredient used in oil and gas extraction.

Numerous studies, including recent ones conducted by both The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the United Steelworkers Union (USU) cite the oil industry’s abysmal safety record as a high risk factor for a major HF accident; over the past decade, more than 7,600 accidental chemical releases from refineries have been reported by the industry. In the past three years alone, a total of 131 “minor” accidents involved HF.

Congressional Report: Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer Must be Researched

Mammogram"Most cases of breast cancer “occur in people with no family history,” suggesting that “environmental factors — broadly defined — must play a major role in the etiology of the disease.” That's the conclusion of something called the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee, which came out with a report last week.

In 2012, Breast cancer was diagnosed in 227,000 women, killed 40,000, and cost more than $17 billion to treat in the United States.

Yet only a fraction of federal research funding has gone toward examining links between breast cancer and ubiquitous chemicals such as the plastic hardening agent bisphenol A; the herbicide atrazine; and dioxin, a byproduct of plastics manufacturing and burning, says the report, prepared for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“National survey data show that many of these chemicals are present in the blood or urine of children and adults in the United States, and some EDCs are present in 100 percent of the people sampled. Exposure to such compounds early in life can be especially dangerous, the report says.

All told, some 84,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States. But complete toxicological screening data are available for only 7 percent of these substances, says the report, which calls for “enhanced testing of chemicals, especially classes of chemicals combined together as a mixture, for effects on the mammary gland and breast …”

“Prevention needs to be as important as other investments that are made in screening, treatment and access to care,” Jeanne Rizzo, co-chair of the committee and president of the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund said in an interview. “There really is a problem, and until we address it we’re going to continue to have a quarter of a million new cases every year.”

The report’s release comes three months after a Center for Public Integrity article detailing a study of female plastic automotive parts workers in Windsor, Ontario. That study found that women employed in the chemical-intensive industry were nearly five times as likely to develop breast cancer, prior to menopause, as women in a control group.

“That was essentially an uncontrolled human study,” Rizzo said of the Windsor workers. “We can’t do that. We need to learn from animal studies.”

In the United States, an estimated 150,000 female workers in the plastics and synthetic rubber industries are likely exposed to many of the same chemicals as the women in Windsor, including polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic; acrylonitrile; formaldehyde and styrene.

At least 216 chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting substances like bisphenol A, have been associated with mammary gland tumors in animals. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are used to make plastics and pesticides and found in products such as furniture, metal food cans and cosmetics.

But environmental exposures have gotten relatively little attention from researchers.

The National Institutes of Health spent almost $2.4 billion on 2,910 breast cancer research projects from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2010.  But only about 27 percent of these projects had to do with prevention, and just 10 percent could be considered “environmental health research.”

Of the $2.8 billion appropriated by Congress from 1992 through 2012 for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, 75 percent went toward “basic biology and treatment research, with only 3 percent for prevention and cancer control projects."

The committee recommends that researchers prioritize “chemicals that are produced in high volumes for which there is biologically plausible evidence of their role in the development of breast cancer.”

It also suggests that regulators improve oversight of “cosmetics and personal care products as well as household cleaning and food containment products,” and step up environmental monitoring, especially of “underserved and under-researched groups as well as ‘fenceline’ communities that are in close proximity to industry or waste sites.”

Breast Cancer

That Didn't Take Long: Exide Amortization Hearing Scheduled for June 18th

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sometimes officials can only see the light after they feel the heat. Less than 48 hours after anew map showing 50-years of lead fallout from the Exide lead smelter was sent to over 30,000 Frisco households, and less than 12 hours after a news release made it a story to follow, the City of Frisco posted an update on its official Exide website yesterday, the first since November. It announceda June 18th amortization hearing for the Exide smelter.All it took was hundreds of Frisco voters sending e-mails to the City Council and Mayor less than a month before the next municipal election, reporters quizzing them on when the city would follow-up on their January vote to begin amortization, and a national news story that reminded them of what was in store if they let Exide have its way with their city. Even though it's now set a hearing date, citizens remain skeptical of the city's sincerity, primarily because the Frisco city attorney's office has been openly biased against the amortization process. The FU flier with map that started it all can be downloaded here.  The city's puffy and defensive response that came out at the end of the business day on Thursday is here. By the way, when we asked Jess Mcangus, the engineer at Spirit Engineering in Houston in charge of putting together the map for us and Frisco Unleaded, to respond to Exide's claims that the lead emissions estimates used to draw the map were way too high, this is what he said: "The lead emission totals were derived from Exide's own reported annual lead emissions, and when annual emissions were not available, from the lead emissions from Exide's own permits (reduced by their historic operating capacity).  If anything, the 300,000 pounds of lead is lower that what was actually emitted by the company."

"Cypress Waters" Wacked as Cypress Hill

Friday, April 13, 2012

This map is a layout of the Billingsley-City of Dallas joint "eco-development" by the name of "Cypress Waters" taking shape on North Lake in Northwestern Dallas. The same one the Dallas Morning Newswrote about today. Only they didn't include this perspective of the development – the master plan for the development.Maybe because it makes explicit reference to the fact that there will be gas wells tastefully scattered among the neighborhoods and schools of Cypress Waters, a fact never mentioned in the Morning News story (they're the green rectangles on the map). Indeed, there's a drill site that sits directly across the street from TWO schools. This is the completely FUBAR'd world of developers unfamiliar with the messiness of gas drilling, or alternatively don't care about the impact of that messiness on their residents. On a map, a well pad is a nicely contained rectangle of a different color that just sits there and mingles with the other colored rectangles. On the ground, it's 24/7 traffic, noise, smells, fumes, health effects, and accidents that don't stay within the rectangle. Remember that just a month ago theColorado School of Public Health published a study that concluded that residents living within a half mile of a gas well were exposed to at least five different toxic chemicals at levels above federal regulatory concern and stood a 66% higher chance of getting cancer. Four out of six of the wells in this planned Cypress Waters eco-development are much closer to people than a half-mile. Some look like their as close as a half block. Yeah, that's real eco of y'all. People who design developments like this should be sentenced to live on their front lines. UPDATE @ 4:30 PM: To its credit the Dallas Morning News is now running a story from their City Hall reporter on its digital front page that talks about the fact that Cypress Hill is also hosting six drilling sites and even posts the same map that we have up here. It's a good piece and if it's language would have been inserted into the larger Business Section article this morning, there would have been no basis to complain. Good for citizens howling about this. Good for the Morning News being responsive to reader comments about so obvious an omission and making the correction by putting it on the front page of the web site. Should we credit this reasonableness to the "Wilonsky Effect?"

Dallas Drilling Meeting Tonight

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


There are rumors that a gas ordinance vote in Dallas could happen as soon as the middle of May, only a week or so after the City Council gets a briefing on the issue from staff. And speaking of city staff, City Manager Mary Suhm reportedly thinks any Dallas citizen who believes 500 feet is to close to live next to a gas well must be crazy. Fortunately, she doesn't vote on the matter. Tonight, like every Tuesday night,there's a planning meeting for citizens who want a stronger ordinance. The Dallas Residents at Risk alliance is meeting at the Texas Campaign for the Environment office at 3308 Lee Parkway, Suite 401 (right across from Lee Park) beginning at 7pm. If you haven't contacted your Dallas city council member, you need to do that pronto, and even better arrange a meeting to meet them in person and tell them why you want a better, more protective gas drilling ordinance. 

There's an App for That: "Fracking 101" PowerPoint Now Ready to Download

Monday, April 02, 2012


Look over there on the right hand column of the site and now, finally, you can download the "Fracking 101" PowerPoint that Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck showed at last Tuesday's citywide organizing meeting on drilling in Dallas. There are short narration notes at the bottom of most of the slides to help guide you through the presentation. Please feel free to share and adapt to your own purposes. Thanks for your patience. 

Weekly Tuesday Evening Dallas Drilling Planning Meetings Begin Tomorrow at 7pm

Monday, April 02, 2012


Just a quick reminder to note that tomorrow evening theDallas Residents at Risk alliance (of which Downwinders is a member) that sponsored last Tuesday's successful citywide organizing meeting in Old East Dallas will be starting their weekly planning meetings to coordinate outreach and education connected to the passing of a new Dallas gas drilling ordinance. We'll be meeting every Tuesday from here on out until a final ordinance is passed, always at the same central location – the Texas Campaign for the Environment offices, on the 4th floor of an office building in Oak Lawn, right across from Lee Park, at at 3303 Lee Pkwy #402We don't expect everyone interested to make every meeting, but we want you to know where you can find us when you can make it. We're still struggling to get our slideshow to go through the Intertubes  and get posted on this site so you can download it, but meanwhile, here's where you can find all the written materials from last Tuesday's meetings. Some folks have asked if last Tuesday's show can hit the road and come to their enighborhood? YES WE CAN. Just contact Downwinder's Jim Schermbeck through this website at and we can work with you to bring the slideshows and speakers to your part of Dallas. And if you belong to a group of any kind, we encourage you to download the resolution at the top of the page, pass it at your next meeting and let us know so we can add yo to the list of organization endorsing these very basic public health protections. 

Fracking Makes Our Bad Air Worse

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A lot of people may think that the largest public health problems linked to horizontal gas drilling,or fracking, are all water-related. They are not, at least not yet.It's the huge amounts of air pollution fracking generates and its consequences for nearby residents, downwind dwellers, and the planet as a whole that are really pose the paramount risks to the most people. Take smog. Saturday's record-setting ozone levels remind us again that DFW is a 21-year old chronic violator of the Clean Air Act. Fracking generates both kinds of smog-forming pollutants identified by the EPA and the state – Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) from combustion sources, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the leakage and "upsets" of chemicals in tanks, pipelines, and other facilities and pieces of equipment. In 2006, NOx pollution from the gas industry was estimated to be over 68 tons per day by the state. That was more than all three cement plants in Midlothian combined, plus every other large stationary source of NOx pollution in the region. By this year that number is expected to drop by 2/3rds because of new rules by the state requiring more modern diesel engines and less drilling in the Barnett Shale in general. TCEQ believes NOx pollution has more of an impact on DFW ozone levels than VOCs, and so it got more serious about regulating the NOx pollution from fracking. But that theory is being seriously tested. This year, again according to the state, all the cars and trucks in DFW will produce 80 tons per day of VOC air pollution. Oil and gas production in DFW will produce 114 tons per day of the same kinds of pollutants – 34 more tons a day than all cars and trucks combined, and the largest emissions by far from any one industry in North Texas. TCEQ says not to worry about the smog impact of these gas VOC emissions because they're aren't as reactive or volatile as the kind vehicles emit and are less likely to form ozone. Independent scientists and regulators disagree, especially given the volume of the pollution. Denver officials believe that when already dirty air – from other urban areas, or coal plants or cement plants – combines with the VOCs from the gas industry, it actually makes the gas VOCs more volatile, and more likely to form ozone. This phenomenon has never been incorporated into the computer modeling TCEQ uses to predict ozone formation in DFW. In 2011, DFW had its worst smog season in five years, even as the state refused to significantly cut VOC emissions from the gas industry. You don't have to live near a gas well to feel the effects of the drilling going on in North Texas. All you have to do is breathe.  The same VOCs that cause smog are also the most responsible for making near-by residents ill with their toxic fumes. Benzene, formaldehyde, and other VOCs are routinely released or escape from gas facilities. A recent Colorado School of Public Health study found a resident's cancer risks increased 66% when they lived within a half mile, or over 2000 feet from a fracking operation. Many of the chemical exposures recorded residents near wells by way of state-issued hand held canisters are exactly the same ones Midlothian residents found when they used the same canisters to test their bad air downwind of the cement plants when they were burning hazardous wastes. And the official response is the same as well. Despite the fact that the resident is testing the air when he or she is feeling the health effects of air pollution, the levels of poisons never seem to reach above mandated levels of concern that would trigger action. But of course those levels are based on theory and never put to the test in any epidemiological way – except when residents' experience contradict the theory – and then its the residents who must be mistaken, not the theory. If you live next to a fracking well operation, you live next door to a hazardous facility that's capable of generating toxic air pollution just like a hazardous waste incinerator, a chemical plant, or refinery. Finally,  the same air pollution from gas operations that causes smog and sick people also contributes to climate change.  Fracking, along with gas processing, and especially compressors to generate pressure instead of wells and pipelines produce very large volumes of Greenhouse Gases. A recent EPA survey of GHG from all Texas facilities shows compressor stations spewing anywhere from 10,000 to over 90.000 tons of GHG pollution. Industry spokespeople say not to worry because most of this is methane that is relatively short-lived compared to other kinds of Greenhouse Gases like CO2.  The problem with that argument is that while it might have a shorter life span, methane is many times more potent in its greenhouse effect. So much so that a recent groups of climate change experts recently said that the best thing we could do in the short term for negating climate change would be to concentrate on reducing methane and particulate matter pollution. This is most relevant to Dallas because of all North Texas cities, it's the one that has officially pledged to cut its GHG pollution along a specific timetable. Just one compressor station within its city limits and any hope of meeting those goals is lost. So one kind of air pollution from the gas industry is responsible for all three impacts – local, regional and global. That's why the Dallas Residents at Risk alliance has endorsed off-setting, or balancing any increases in GHG emissions caused by the gas industry with industry-sponosored reductions in Dallas that keep our total air pollution burden from skyrocketing. It's the first time this strategy has been advocated and it is the only brand new idea to be included in the Dallas Gas drilling Task Force as a "suggestion" in its cover letter to the City Council. Even its members saw the collision of City of Dallas promises to clean the air with opening the door to fracking. Gas isn't cleaner than coal in DFW. It's just as bad or worse. 

Another Environmental Cause of Breast Cancer: Cadmium in Your Diet

Friday, March 23, 2012

A new report by the American Association for Cancer Research finds that women whose diets contain higher levels of cadmium are at greater risk of developing breast cancer than those that ingest less of the toxic heavy metal. Already a well-known carcinogen, cadmium is now also known as an "endocrine disrupter"  for its ability to mimic or alter hormonal responses in the body – in this case fooling the body into thinking cadmium was estrogen. The latest research follows two other studies, published in 2006 and 2010, that first singled out cadmium as a factor in breast cancer. Those studies measured cadmium in the urine of smaller groups of pre- and post-menopausal women, and found that those who had high cadmium exposures were more than twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those with the smallest exposures. Locally, the Bell Helicopter plant in Grand Prairie, Sabre in Alvarado, and the Ameristeel Steel Mill in Midlothian were the largest point sources of cadmium in North Texas in 2010.

Someone Tell the Task Force: Cancer Risks Two-Thirds Higher Within 1/2 mile of Gas Wells

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

People living within a half-mile of oil- and gas-well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new study by the University of Colorado School of Public Health. As a result, cancer risks were estimated toincrease by at least 66% for those residents. Scientists found toxic and smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds such as trimethylbenzenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes at elevated levels as far as 2640 feet away from fracking sites over the last three years in Garfield County, Colorado. Those chemicals can have non-cancerous neurological or respiratory effects that include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing. "Non-cancer health impacts from air emissions due to natural-gas development is greater for residents living closer to wells," the report's press release says. "We also calculated higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to the wells." The report is believed to be the longest-term study yet of gas field air pollution risks but did not look at the full range of chemicals released from fracking operations, which also includes diesel fumes and methane, or impacts beyond a half-mile. "Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural-gas development that has focused largely on water," said Lisa McKenzie, the study's lead author. Most DFW cities have setbacks, or buffer zones surrounding gas wells of only 300 to 1500 feet, with most providing "variances" that allow drilling even closer to homes, schools and businesses. This report should cause all those previous distance requirements to be re-examined and is acutely embarrassing for most of the members of The Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force, who voted to roll back a recommended 1000-foot buffer zone to 500 feet only a couple of weeks ago. That decision looks even more seriously wrong-headed in light of this data. Downwinders at Risk board and Dallas Task Force member Cherelle Blazer kept insisting during the proceedings that there was plenty of evidence to show public health harms as far as a mile away from a fracking site. Here's one more piece. Over at Bluedaze, Sharon cites a local air monitoring study in the Bartonville-Argyle area just south of Denton where baseline testing when drilling was just getting started showed 7 detects of the 84 chemicals  typically tested for by TCEQ. After drilling took off there, testing showed 65 detects of the 84 chemicals typically tested for by TCEQ. This was on the lot where the high school band practices, about a half-mile from gas wells. Gas wells are toxic facilities that should not be allowed to operate in residential areas or close to people under any circumstances. Don't want to see the same threat to your family's health in Dallas? Come on out to next Tuesday's citywide organizing meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas, 7 pm, at 2900 Live Oak in the Center for Community Cooperation. Download the flyer and resolution on this page. 

"There are no safe doses for endocrine disruptors"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

That's the conclusion of a new report that was three years in the making. Dr. Laura Vandenburg of Tufts University led 12 other scientists in an effort that examined hundreds of recent studies on the effects to people and animals of hormone-changing chemicals that are widely used in industry, including cosmetics, pesticides and plastics. They found that even tiny doses of these chemicals, called "endocrine disruptors," can cause harmful health effects such as infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. Writing in a separate editorial about the report, Vandenburg stated that "After reviewing hundreds of studies, my colleagues and I have concluded that there truly are no safe doses for these hormone-altering chemicals. We found overwhelming evidence that these hormone-altering chemicals have effects at low levels, and that these effects are often completely different than effects at high levels. For example, a large amount of dioxin would kill you, but a very small dose, similar to what people are exposed to from eating contaminated foods, increases women’s risk of reproductive abnormalities." In North Texas, we're not only surrounded by endocrine disruptors in products we buy, but also in the air we breath. Lead from Exide's Frisco smelter is an endocrine disruptor. Many of the pollutants released by the Midlothian cement plants – TXI, Holcim and Ash Grove – are endocrine disruptors, as are a good percentage of the chemicals emitted by the gas industry when its fracking a well. Like so many other kinds of human-made pollutants, endocrine disrupters were allowed in commerce without full understanding of their possible public health effects. That's why the report also recommends that the way the government tests for a chemical's toxicity be modernized. Currently, there's no evaluation of health effects from endocrine disruptors at the low level of exposure encountered by most people. These chemicals actually can harm you more in smaller doses over a long period of time than really high short term exposures. It's called a "non-linear" response because it doesn't follow the old "the dose is the poison" rule that makes the amount of poison the driver of any possible toxic effects. “Current testing paradigms are missing important, sensitive endpoints” for human health, Vandenburg and Co. said.“The effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.” In other words, we need a system that catches these chemicals before they're widely marketed in consumer products, or released as pollution into the environment; before we become unwitting lab rats.

"Moderate" PM Pollution in DFW Kills and Maims

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's behind the paywall, but the Morning News and Randy Lee Loftis commit real journalism today in the form of anarticle on the dangers of Particulate Matter pollution, even at so-called "moderate" levels. It's based on two recent studies, inlcuding one we profiled here last week, but then does the right thing by localizing what the results of those studies mean for DFW air quality. The answer isn't pretty. It turns out there were an average of 41 days a year from 2007 to 2011when PM readings at one of two monitoring stations in Dallas were in the range that's associated with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. By comparison, DFW experienced 38 days last summer when the new 75 parts per billion ozone standard was exceeded. Considering that there are about three times as many ozone monitors as PM monitors in DFW, you can see where some folks might think we have a problem: for more than a month every year, we breathe air that can make us sick or kill us. Unfortunately for future victims, it appears it will take some kind of threat from the federal government, or the courts, or both to make PM pollution as much of a target for control as ozone pollution, even thought the scientific evidence continues to mount that particulates cause much more widespread public health damage. That's because state and local governments risk losing federal highway dollars if they don't try and reduce ozone pollution, or smog. There is no such threat driving public policy regarding any other air pollutant. There are almost 40 posts on PM pollution listed in our category directory for this blog. Many of these summarize recent studies showing how pervasive PM pollution is and how insidious its health effects are. It damages you by being both a piece of dirty soot that can make it hard to breathe, and as a carrier of any number of toxic chemicals that attach themselves when the piece of soot is created. PM can have lead or mercury on it. It can have benzene or formaldehyde. It's a microscopic suitcase for toxins. PM can cross the lung/blood vessel barrier and travel throughout your body, affecting your brain, your reproductive health or your immune system. It's the most underestimated, and under-regulated pollution. Federal standards for PM pollution are stuck way behind the times and need to be updated, but the Obama Administration decided not to go forward with trying to write a new standard in its first term – probably because of projections about how far-reaching the solutions to PM pollution will have to be – taking in everything from cars to power plants to diesel trucks, to cement plants. You've seen the howling from industry over new ozone standards and power plant mercury rules. Imagine the reaction to a tougher PM standard. Yet that is the direction the science is sending us. We've often been critical of the dearth of local environmental reporting in DFW, but this piece today is an excellent example of he kind of work a major metropolitan daily needs to be churning out on a regular basis. Kudos to the News and Loftis. 

Pig's Blood vs. Lead Poisoning: How Serious is Frisco about Closing a Toxic Menace?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Word comes today via the Dallas Morning Newsthat the City of Dallas has referred the notorious Columbia meat packing plant to the Dallas Board of Adjustment to begin amortization proceedings.The plant's crime was dumping pig's blood into the Trinity River .. and using an illegal discharge pipe to do it. While gross and potentially toxic to wildlife,Columbia posed no threat to human health, except maybe to its employees. On the other hand, the Exide lead smelter is spewing lead into the air every day that we know can lead to everything from learning disabilities to hearing loss to death. It's doing this in the middle of a densely populated area. It's doing this despite accumulating a longer record of serious environmental violations than 20 Columbia packing houses combined, including illegally disposing of hazardous waste and dumping lead into Stewart Creek, a tributary of Lewisville Lake, a drinking water source. After initially feigning a move toward amortization on January, the Frisco City Council hasn't been as worried about this toxic threat as Dallas seems to be about its pig blood problem. It's dragged its feet in referring Exide to its own Board of Adjustment for amortization and has so far refused to follow through. So here's our new office pool – which facility will be amortized by it municipality first – the meat packing plant or the lead smelter? Place your bets now and let's see if Frisco is as concerned about lead harming its residents as Dallas is about animal blood in its river. And by the way, there's an election in Frisco in May with choices to replace the current city  council members who seem to be dragging their feet.

MARCH 27th: City-Wide Organizing Meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas

Friday, March 02, 2012

In preparation for what could be a vote on a new ordinance as soon as April, The Dallas Residents at Risk Alliance, which includes Downwinders, is hosting a 4-Alarm, All Points Bulletin, city-wide organizing meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas, 7 to 8:30 pm Tuesday, March 27th at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas. We'll go through a brief overview of why fracking in densely urban areas is an especially bad idea, look at what the current situation is with gas well sites already in the pipeline, as well as what we know about the location of current gas leases. We'll have members of the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force who were our reliable allies in the process. We'll look ahead at the work we have to do to get the industry-fueled last-minute rollback of protections set-aside by the Council in favor of more adequate safeguards. It doesn't matter what part of Dallas you live in – you'll be affected by gas drilling and your council member will be voting on a new ordinance governing how it should be done. Think climate change is an important issue? You can't make a better investment of your time on the issue than seeing that Dallas requires mitigation of gas industry Greenhouse Gas pollution. Want to protect water supplies? Preventing a water-intensive industry from robbing Dallas blind of its own water and then causing spills and leaks that will contaminate surface sources of water is worth your effort for the next two months. Want to see less smog?According to the state of Texas, local gas industry sources now emit more smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds than all the cars and trucks n DFW. Just about any global or national environmental problem you can think of has a connection, or is made worse, by fracking in Dallas. We need your help now. This is not a drill. Mark it on your calendar and be one of the active citizens that keeps this intrusion from becoming a takeover.

EPA releases Non-Cancerous Half of Dioxin Report

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After 21 years, four Presidents, countless political battles and lots of pollution, the EPA finally released its health reassessment of Dioxin this past Friday. Like so many environmental decisions from this Administration, the report splits important hairs. While confirming that ultra-low exposures (we're talking 1 millionth of a gram or less) to Dioxin can cause damage to a person's immune and reproductive systems, cause skin rashes and liver damage, EPA says that levels of exposure for most Americans have declined so much over the last two decades that there should be no significant risk. To at least one expert, that was an      "very odd statement." Arnold Schecter of University of Texas School of Public Health, noted that EPA's assurances really didn't jibe "because some people are more highly exposed than average and some groups, such as fetuses and nursing babies, are more sensitive to the effects." What other populations are more highly exposed to Dioxin? People who live downwind of facilities where its emitted – power plants, cement plants, and lead smelters, to name a few. DFW residents live downwind from all three. Exide's lead smelter in Frisco was the 9th largest dioxin polluter in Texas in 2009, releasing more of the poison than industrial facilities many times its size. While most exposures come through eating or drinking animal products that contain dioxin because the animals themselves were contaminated and store it in their fat, breathing in dioxins directly is also a pathway of exposure when you live near a place that burns hazardous wastes, smelts metals, or deals with a lot of chlorinated materials. Like millions of DFW residents. While there was a lot of disappointment by environmentalists at the lack of follow-through on the report, the food industry is sweating bullets over its conclusions. Last year, food industry groups wrote the EPA, stating that  most Americans could “easily exceed the daily [0.7 picogram limit] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack." Now they're afraid safer food advocates will use the report to push for new restrictions on how much of one of the most poisonous substances ever discovered can be included in their food products. Indeed. How unreasonable to expect less human-made poison dreck in your food. No release date for the part of the reassessment dealing with cancer risks

In Dallas, Citizens Draw Five Lines in the Shale

Monday, February 13, 2012

Last week, the coalition of local groups shadowing the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force (including Dallas Area Citizens for Responsible Drilling, Dallas Sierra Club, Downwiders at Risk, Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance, and Texas Campaign for the Environment) released a 9-page letter they had sent to Task Force and City Council members outlining five ways to strengthen regulations being proposed for a new Dallas gas drilling ordinance. With only two more meetings left on its official schedule, the suggestions come just in the nick of time for the Task Force to consider. Whether they will or not is another matter, since there seem to be only three or so reliably citizen-friendly members, including Downwinders at Risk board member Cherelle Blazer. Nevertheless, with the release of this letter the citizens have signaled a re-trenching of position as they get closer to the Council actually deciding on what the contents of a new ordinance will be.These five issues will be central from here on out as we see whether Dallas has learned anything from its westerly neighbors' unfortunate run-in with the reality of opening your city to urban gas mining and all that it entails…..1) A 3000 foot setback for residential and commercial properties that is truly protective. 3000 feet is the distance recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers between fracking and dams. If it's good enough for dams, it's good enough for foundations, water mains and other structures at risk.  Since the task force has also decided to allow huge compressor stations on the well pad sites, this distance requirement is also more protective from the toxic emissions and insidious low decibel sound pollution from these kinds of facilities. Recent studies show that distances less than this could pose problems for places like schools.  2) Fully disclosure all chemicals for first responders. Despite industry's assertions, new laws in Texas and voluntary industry disclosure still allows for plenty of "trade secrets" to keep the real make-up of fracking fluid ingredients unknown. This lack of full disclosure poses an unacceptable risk to fire fighters, police officers and medical professionals who will be called upon to show up when there's an accident, emergency or spill. Just this last week, an Ohio paper discovered that a single gas well in that state used almost 500 tons of chemicals. But right now in Texas, there's no way of knowing the identity of all of them, or the volumes and conentrations on-site. Dallas first responders have a right to know when they put their lives on the line. 3) Better protect Dallas water security. The groups are asking the Task Force to recommend that Dallas ban the exporting of its water to other places for fracking purposes (Arlington already does this), to cut-off water for fracking during drought conditions (Grand Prairie already does this) and to charge twice as much for water for fracking because once it's used, it cannot re-enter the hydrological cycle. Already, there's a controversy about how much water Dallas is selling to other municipalities in the region. On the verge of what could be a long-term "drought-event," the city needs to protect its water security from an industry that can use 5 to 7 million gallons per well per frack job. 4) Neutralize Greenhouse Gas pollution from drilling. Dallas has signed a national agreement to rollback its Greenhouse Gas pollution to 7% below 1990 levels by THIS YEAR.  A city-wide inventory of Greenhouse Gases in March will tell us how far the city needs to go to accomplish this, but based on numbers just released by EPA, one gas compressor station could easily surpass all the Greenhouse Gas pollution currently produced by all the stationary sources in the city. Without "off-setting" new GHG pollution from drilling with new reductions, emissions will skyrocket and the city will never meet its goals.  Off-setting is done in DFW by EPA to make sure new facilities don't make things worse. For every pound of new pollution created, the facility has to reduce a pound somewhere else in Dallas. No other Shale city has attempted this kind of regulation, but no other Shale city has made a national commitment to reduce its GHG pollution. 5) Provide a fully-funded, well-staffed and fully-equipped oversight effort. The past ten years tell us it's folly to expect the State of Texas or EPA to provide the kind of 24/7 response to accidents, upsets and spills that is needed to adequately monitor gas drilling and protect citizens and property. Unless Dallas is prepared to spend lots of money on the job that other levels of government are not able or willing to do, it shouldn't even allow gas drilling in the first place…..The next-to-last Task Force meeting is on Tuesday the 21st, from 2 to 5 pm at City Hall 6SE.  Expect more revelations and challenges by the citizens' group now that it's gearing up for a council fight.

Komen and Industry Unite to Deny Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Before the latest controversy over their Planned Parenthood PR disaster, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was already mired in a long-standing battle over their continuing denial of the link between chemical exposure and breast cancer. In 2005, the foundationspent millions gutting the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, a bill that would have awarded grant money through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences explore the connections between environmental factors and breast cancer. Komen has also been active in denying any link between the common chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and breast cancer, maybe because so many of its corporate sponsors use the stuff, including Coke and General Mills. It's one thing to be non-committal. It's another to join the chemical industry in actively shutting down research.   Read More

EPA Dioxin Report: 25 Years Late and Counting

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The EPAmissed yet another deadline for releasing its Dioxin health reassessment report. By the end of January, the Agency was supposed to publish the part of the report dealing with non-cancer health effects, but it didn't do it. It says the report will be out "as soon as possible," but this is the same report that's been due, since, oh, around 1987 or so. Makes you wonder what they really don't want us to know, doesn't it? Dioxin is one of the most toxic substances ever tested by EPA. It's considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and can really mess with a person's hormonal systems – to the point of affecting sexual reproduction and fetal growth. It's also one of those chemicals industry really doesn't like talking about or acknowledging. For one thing, thanks to the fact that it accumulates in human fat tissue, we're all carrying around bits of Dioxin already. Our current body burden might be so high as to render any additional exposures threatening, and so the correct regulatory response would be to severely curtail its production and release. But that kind of talk gets the EPA in trouble with the likes of DOW Chemical (which routinely releases over 7000 grams of the stuff at its huge Freeport plant – 2nd largest source in the US) and other manufacturers, as well as large paper mills. And then there's that little smelter that belches the stuff out right up the Tollway in Frisco – Exide is one of the largest sources for Dioxin in the entire state of Texas. Just last month, EPA reported that Dioxon releases went up 18% from 2009 to 2010, so it's not like the market is addressing the problem. Here's the reaction of Lois Gibb's group to the delay, which they blame on pressure from the chemical industry.   

What's the Largest Source of Dioxin in North Texas?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The chart to the right is a screen grab taken directly from the EPA's own TRI website (Toxics Release Inventory) ranking the largest Dioxin polluters in Texas in 2009. The emission numbers don't look all that big but that's deceiving becauseDioxin is the Black Mamba of industrial poisons. It's so toxic, it's measured in grams and not pounds or tons. It's a carcinogen, wreaks havoc with hormones and immune systems in adults, children and fetuses, and has a variety of other nasty human health impacts. There is no "safe" threshold level of exposure to Dioxin. It's what made Agent Orange so toxic. It's why Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri are federal Superfund sites. Dioxin is associated with hazardous waste incinerators, large chemical plants and paper mills because it's formed when chlorine is heated or burned. Now, knowing all that, maybe you'd think the cement plants in Midlothian would be the largest local source of the stuff. But no. Look at #9 on EPA's list. It's Exide's lead smelter in Frisco. Look at the company it's keeping.  Chemical plants, power plants, pulp mills and refineries. There's only one other North Texas plant in the top 22 (out of 74 total Dioxin polluters in Texas) and that's an aluminum smelter in Commerce. In 2009, the Frisco smelter released more Dioxin than any cement plant in Texas. More than the Valero Refinery in Corpus Christi, or the ExxonMobil Refinery in Beaumont. More than the Martin Lake coal-fired power plant. In 2009, Exide was Collin County's only source of industrial Dioxin. There were no facilities in Denton, Dallas or Tarrant Counties emitting Dioxin. And this high ranking was based on Exide's claim that most of the Dioxin that the smelter created onsite went "poof" after being treated, and left only 2 of 13 grams behind. If the company is fudging only a little bit, it means the smelter could in fact be in the top five for that year. What's remarkable is that all of the other polluters at the top of that list are much, much bigger operations than Exide's doublewide-looking smelter in Frisco. When it comes to the most toxic substance ever tested by EPA, Exide is the little smelter that belched. It produces Dioxin numbers all out of proportion with it size. Since reporting for Dioxin began in 2000, Exide's Frisco smelter has estimated producing over 94 grams, and releasing over 18. That latter amount alone is enough to give every resident of Frisco cancer several times over. But unlike heavier stuff coming out of the stacks at Exide, Dioxin can travel far, far downwind. Way past the smelter's puny "non-attainment" zone.  Way past the Frisco city limits. So next time you see some news about those citizens trying to relocate that old smelter, maybe you won't consider their efforts so provincial, and instead write them a check for helping you reduce your average daily intake of poison.

Tell EPA to Move Forward on Dioxin Regulation

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dioxin is the name given to a group of long-lasting, very potent toxic chemicals. It's the poison that contaminated Vietnam and Vietnam veterans as Agent Orange, as well as Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri as buried chemical waste. It's so toxic, emissions are measured in grams, not pounds or tons. Today, dioxin isn't manufactured. It's a by-product of facilities that use or burn chlorinated materials. Maybe you think dioxin isn't your problem since you don't live near a industrial polluter. Think again. DFW is full of dioxin sources. Cement plants are a huge source. Most of North Texas' six million residents live downwind form three of them in Midlothian. Lead smelters are also a large source. We've got one of those in Frisco. Wastewater treatment facilities – every city has one. Moreover, dioxins are very mobile and travel very long distances where they bio-accumulate in living things, like people and the things people eat, like cows, and the things that cows make, like cheese and milk. As a result, nearly every American has some dioxin in them already. In 1985, an EPA report concluded that Dioxin caused cancer at low levels of exposure. In fact, the agency’s estimate of the cancer risk to humans from dioxin exposure was by far the highest defined for any chemical by any government agency anywhere in the world at the time. An official reassessment was supposed to codify Dioxin's dangers and pave the way for increased regulations that would limit exposure. But believe it or not, that official reassessment, begun in 1994, still hasn't seen the light of day because of industry pressure. Now the folks at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice have begun a petition campaign aimed at EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that they hope will finally get things moving. They're looking for signatures from everybody, not just groups or their leaders, so swing by and sign-on. And if you want more information on what dioxin is, why it's so harmful and what industries produce it, check out the CHEJ's dioxin resource page. 

Old Frisco Gives Way to New in Lead Smelter Votes

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When the break finally came, there was an SRO crowd at Frisco City Hall to see it. Exide had cajoled, told, pleaded with its employees to show up and bring their families and so they did, filling-up the small auditorium before many on the other side of the issue had even arrived. They were Exide's blue-collar line men and women, who worked on the floor in the company's smelter, but don't get paid enough by the company to live in the same city where the smelter is located. They were there, many of them for the first time, hoping that their numbers alone could inspire a last-minute reprieve by the City Council. Filling out the auditorium were half-again as many of the hardy band of Frisco Unleaded leaders and their supporters who had forced the split-up and now came to witness the severing. Old Frisco, or rather the Frisco of Good Ol' Boys, was being left behind. A declaration of independence for a irretrievably modern Frisco was being declared. That's really what this was all about. Although probably close to 100 showed up, only 12 employees spoke. The rest applauded vociferously – but only after the anti-smelter side had taught them the appropriate protocol for doing so. The employees were all wistful for a time when Frisco accepted lead smelting in its midst and welcomed the plant's charity. They felt betrayed by the city's spurning of Exide; it's rejection of the unfulfilled and nebulous "April Agreement" surrounding a piece of legislation that was spoken of as if they were wedding vows that had been broken. The Old Frisco didn't want to break-up, protesting that "We're Married."  But it didn't have a choice anymore. New Frisco had outgrown it. The contrast was too stark now. It just doesn't fit in. And so there had to be a divorce. And that's what the Frisco Unleaded contingent urged – a final break that would end in Exide's relocation. Otherwise, the city would continue to wrestle with the paradox of trying to sell itself as one thing while being quite another at its very heart. After seven months of trying to avoid thinking about this, the Council finally agreed. Unanimously, it voted first to reject Exide's petition of "vested rights" that would have exempted the company from having to apply for a Special Use Permit. All the confidence pumped into the room by the excitations of the novice Exide crowd got sucked out faster than any negatively-pressure enclosure. Then the Council voted unanimously to ask the City's own Board of Adjustment to research and establish the date at which the Exide smelter became a "non-compliant" use of the land.  That date is the first requirement that's necessary to begin amortization proceedings against Exide's smelter, leading to a forced recouping of costs for the company and a scheduled closure. In one fell swoop, the city council had just broken the most toxic ties binding it to the Old Frisco, and opened the way for the single biggest improvement in public health in Frisco history. Six months ago such a step was not even within the realm of possibility. It was made possible by citizens like you. People who used to be Exide's "passive receptors" who are now fighting back in efficient and constructive ways. Downwinders is proud as punch to sponsor Frisco Unleaded, whose members have shown it is still possible to do the impossible. This week at least, we don't think there's any better advertisement for DIY democracy than this group of very committed people. There's a long road yet to go down before we get to a lead-free Frisco, but thanks to them, the city no longer has to carry the lead weight of Old Frisco to get there.

What a Concept: Preventing Cancer by Decreasing Exposure to Carcinogens

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Those Canadians are so practical. Here's an articleabout a group of women in Ontario who want their city administration's to take their own anti-cancer rhetoric seriously by identifying and decreasing the releases of carcinogens into the environment. Like passing anti-idling laws to cut down on PM pollution, or having local industries publicize the chemicals they use on-site, or making sure drinking water is safe. Really radical stuff. We're looking forward to when the pink ribbons wrap TXI's smokestacks.

CDC: Not Enough Info to Know if Fracking is Threat to Public Health

Friday, January 06, 2012

What is the appropriate reaction by policymakers when the nation's official public health agency says that the health effects of fracking natural gas and oil are unknown and should be studied, say for the next five years? Is it to help facilitate more drilling in the meantime, or to freeze activity until we're sure it isn't causing more problems than it purports to solve? That's the question now that the Centers for Disease Control Director of Environmental Health concluded that “We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health.” Certainly, Dr. Christopher Portier doesn't see it as his place to tell policymakers the answer, insisting that “Our role is to determine what the risks are, and it is up to the public to decide if they are OK with that risk.” Given this declaration by the CDC, the choice cities like Dallas, now rewriting its gas drilling ordinance have is very clear. Continue to go down the path of allowing the permitting of new gas wells without any assurance from the nation's public health experts that what you're doing is not harmful, or decide not to open the floodgates in the first place. Fracking causes the kind of damage that cannot be undone. Better to be safe than tragically sorry later. Sharon has the citizen WTF reaction.

Toxic Pollution Climbed Almost 20 Percent in 2010

Friday, January 06, 2012

EPA has released the 2010Toxic Release Inventory(TRI) numbers and the news isn't good.What are called "toxic releases" to the air land and water increased by 16% over 2009 levels. Particularly disturbing is a 10% rise in dioxin pollution. Dioxin is the powerful chemical behind Agent Orange woes. It's a human carcinogen and potent Endrocrine disruptor. It's so toxic that it's not measured in pounds or ounces, but in grams. It's undergoing a long overdue complete health effects review inside EPA right now that the chemical industry is desperate to delay or kill. Maybe you think this isn't your problem. Think again. Cement kilns are large emitters of dioxin and chances are you're downwind of six of those. Smelters turn out to be a large source as well, but you sure don't hear about that in connection with the Exide lead smelter in Frisco do you? Even though it churns out dioxin in cement plant-like amounts. According to the EPA, 2010's increase in Dioxin is attributed to mining industries – like smelters – and incinerators and cement plants burning hazardous waste.

Why "Risk Assessments" are not Science

Monday, December 05, 2011

In 1997, Sandra Steingraber wrote Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, a seminal work from the front lines of the anti-toxics fight. Now she's a scholar-in-residence at Ithica College and still writing about how far behind the regulations that govern chemical exposure are to the science being discovered. This gap is most apparent and most harmful when facility "risk assessments" are performed by EPA or the state. Here's an article from the Pittsburgh alt weekly about why that process is so hopelessly out of date and the growing movement to limit our collective exposures from all sources of chemical contamination.

This Just In: The Current System Isn't Working

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Twenty-two years ago, Congress deemed 200 kinds of chemical air pollution so toxic as to require strict enforcement and regulation of their release on a strict schedule in a speedy way. That hasn't happened. It hasn't happened in a spectacular, why-don't-we-all-have-jet-packs-yet kind of way. The Center for Public Integrity follows up last week's "Poisoned Places" collaboration with NPR with a great dissectionof why the current system of regulating toxic threat is outdated and overwhelmed. It's the best argument for why new chemicals should be required to prove their benign effects up front – BEFORE they get released into the marketplace and we all become lab rats in someone else's experiment.

NPR Focuses on Haz-Waste Burning in Kilns, with an Assist from Downwinders

Friday, November 11, 2011


As part of its "Poisoned Places" series this week, NPR ran a story in association with Slate Magazine and the Center for Public Integrity on Thursday that focused on the cement industry's "permission to pollute" when it comes to burning hazardous waste in kilns that were never designed for that job. Focusing on the 100-year-old Ash Grove cement plant in Chanute, Kansas, the producers explain how "Unlike hazardous-waste incinerators, cement kilns built or rebuilt before 2005 can release 43 percent more lead and cadmium, as much as twice the hydrocarbons, close to four times the hydrogen chloride and chlorine gas, and twice the particulate matter, according to EPA standards. Altogether, 13 kilns in six states operate under those standards and can emit toxics at those levels."  One can imagine the trouble local concerned citizens, led by the Galemore Family, have in trying to take on not only the largest industry in town, but one that's been there for a century, where their opponents labeled them "the Chanute al-Qaida." It's a situation Downwinders knows well from working in the company town of Midlothian for so long. But at least we were in a major media market and a metropolitan area downwind of the plants. The folks in Chhnute are out in the middle of a media desert, with no local Sierra Clubs to help them, no downwind cities who get the air pollution but not the tax base. All alone. That's one reason why we sent reporter Sarah Harris to Chanute for this story over a year ago. We met Sarah, a Dallas native, when she was doing a student media project that focused on cement plant pollution in Midlothian. Seeking to follow that up with a piece she could get published in the national media, we told her about the folks we had just met in Chanute and their plight. We urged her to visit the town and find out what it was like. She did. And about the same time, producers for NPR were looking for stories that focused on unusual toxic problems in the US. And that's how the story of the haz-waste-burning cement plant in Kansas ended up on national radio and in a national magazine by way of Downwinders. We Kilnheads have to stick together. 

Correction: Explaining the Two "Watch Lists" Featured in NPR's "Poisoned Places"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In trying to get the news out quickly about the four-part NPR/Center for Public Integrity series on toxic pollution in America titled "Poisoned Places," we didn't do a very good job of explaining the origin and purpose of the two different "watch lists" that the reporters discovered and publicized.  In fact, we're pretty sure we got it dead wrong. So here's a second try. There's a list that was begun by the Bush Administration in 2004 that included what the EPA considered "high priority violators" nationwide. As of September, this list was about 1600 names long. In North Texas, TXI, Holcim, Ash Grove, Exide, Magnablend, the GM plant, the Bell Helicopter plant, and over 100 other sites are included on this longer "high priority violator" list. There's a second, smaller "watch list" of 464 facility names of facilities nationwide with on-going violations, but which no administrative action has been taken to resolve. This is the list that only two North Texas sites are on – GE Engine in Ft. Worth and Ash Grove Cement in Midlothian.  National Map of the 1600 sites is here. State map of the Texas sites on the 1600 list is here.

DFW full of "Poisoned Places"

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stung by criticism that it wasn't doing enough about cracking down on chronic polluters, and facing a tough re-election fight, the Bush Administration in 2004 established a secret "watch list" to help it identify the worst bad actors. If, after nine months of knowing about a critical environmental violation at a faclity, there still hadn't been any enforcement action, the facility took its place on the list. As of September of this year, that list had grown to 1,600 facilities. Thanks to NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, you can look at andinvestigate a map of the US identifying those 1600 plants, including over 100 in the DFW area when you use the Zoom tool the NPR website provides. Many names are familiar – TXI, Holcim, Ash Grove and the Ameristeel steel plant in Midltohian all make the list, as does the Exide lead smelter in Frisco, as doesMagnablend, the Waxahachie plant that just blew up, as does places you might suspect like the GM plant in Arlington or the Bell plant in Ft. Worth, However, there are lots and lots of places that maybe you haven't suspected, like the Americhem plant in Mansfield, or Valley Solvents and Chemicals in North Ft. Worth. The sites on the list are rated 1 to 5 on a EPA "Risk Factor Scale," with 5 being the maximum risk. All of those sites we just listed are all rated at Risk Factor 5 – that is the combination and/or volume of chemicals released make them among the most dangerous sites on that "watch list." But wait, there's more. Within this larger watch list, there's a second, more selective list of REALLY bad actors that numbers 464. Almost 10% of those sites are in Texas, but only two are in DFW: GE Engine Services on FAA Blvd. in Ft. Worth and our good friends at Ash Grove Cement. You remember Ash Grove – the owners of the last obsolete wet kilns in Texas that refuse to modernize their cement plant just south of DFW. As we remarked on Monday when DFW officially replaced Houston as the "Smog Capital of Texas," DFW hasn't historically been associated with dirty air and dirty industries the way the Gulf Coast has been. Unfortunately, that's changing.

Another Ellis County Fire Reminds Us We All Live Downwind

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

In 1995, a Midlothian tire disposal company that collected, stored and shipped used tires for the near-by cement plants to burn in their kilns caught fire itself and burned for almost a month. It was located right across the street from the TXI plant. Black, toxic smoke wafted between high rise office buildings in Downtown Dallas for days. At the time, the fire was particularly and painfully ironic for Downwinders at Risk supporters who had been trying to tell people why burning tires in cement plants is a bad idea, as well as how Dallas air      could be affected by pollution from the cement plants despite the state saying they were too far away. Now, here in plain sight from Reunion Tower, columns of carbon black smoke thousands of feet high originating less than 2000 feet from TXI gave lie to the official assurances that the cement plant was too distant to affect DFW air quality, or that miniatures versions of this fire was supposed to be effective "recycling" of tire wastes. Oh yeah, the name of the tire disposal company? "Safe Tire."

Gas Industry Tea Party Puppets Provide Comic Relief at EPA Hearing

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Call us Old School, but we just don't get corporate-sponsored Populism. William Jennings Bryant. "Fighting Bob" La Folette. Fiorella Laguardia. Teddy Roosevelt. The Koch Brothers? And the pitfalls of such a strategy were never more fully displayed than when a handful of Tea Party members right out of a Daily Showskit decided they would crash last Thursday's national EPA hearing on gas pollution in Arlington.

The Landmark Health Study on Fracking That Industry Killed

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thanks much to Raymond Crawford with Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling for forwarding this ProPublica story on the hard toxicological questions surrounding exposures from gas industry facilities, and specifically fracking. Of course, it's in the industry's interest to let them remain questions instead of getting uncomfortable answers.

Are there 108 Champions of Clean Air in DFW?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Maybe the Best 80 Minutes on Fracking You'll Ever Hear

Thursday, September 01, 2011

We know we're late with this, but this last Tuesday's meeting of the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force offered quite a show. It was the turn of the citizens coalition that's been driving the re-write of the Dallas drilling ordinance for a year now to put on their case. It was a doosey.  

First up was Kathy Martin, an Oil and Gas engineer from Oklahoma who gave a great lesson in local geology and what happens when you start poking lots of deep holes in the ground. Turns out gas drillers might not use as much cement in lining those holes as might be needed to stop what ever's going up and down in it from getting into the area around it. 

Then there was Dr. Melanie Sattler of UTA, an air polution control engineer who reviewed her work in the"Leaking Money" report she'd done for Downwinders in May chronicling how pollution controls on gas equipment can actually reduce emissions by 90% plus but also provide a source of new revenue for operators by collecting previously lost product. 

Next was Judith Jordan, a Colorado hydrologist who just happens to have conducted a study that contradicts the often repeated assertion that there's no documented water contamination from fracking. She gave three case studies in heavily-drilled Garfield County that disputed the industry's claims that water resources are not threatened by drilling.

Then there was Deborah Rogers, the Ft. Worth member of the local Federal Reserve Board who has been tracking the "ponzi scheme" economics of the gas industry with a remarkable presentation about the deflating production rates at wells after 2-5 years and the equally deflating valuations of shale-invested operators. 

The incomparable Sharon Wilson from the Texas Oil and Accountability Project recited the familiar litany of health effects associated with gas facilities of all kinds, and previewed the Denton Record Chronicle story on breast cancer increases in Shale counties that ran yesterday. Her conclusion was that until we know more about the long term impacts of drilling on public health, it should not take place in locations that are still unmarred, like Dallas. 

Finally, there was Gary Hogan, the Vice-President of the Ft. Worth based North Central Texas Communities Alliance who spoke eloquently about the failure of that city to write an effective ordinance the first two times so far. Task Force Chair Lois Finkelman seemed to be particularly impressed with the very specific loopholes and mistakes that Gary said Ft. Worth was still making.

This is one of those events where the sum was greater than its parts. There was an impressive cumulative impact at the end. It may have been the best single  80 minutes of fracking exposition we've ever seen. There's an audio recording of the meeting you can listen to at the city's task force web site.

It also didn't hurt to have direct comparisons be made to last week's parade of industry representatives –

Last week: All men. All public relations spokespeople. Evasiveness. This week: 3/4's women. Three practicing engineers. Plenty of substance. 

It wasn't the end of things, but it was a good day and it did set a very high bar.

Breast Cancer Declines Nationally But Increases in Shale Counties

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Circumstantial evidence or just coincidence? That's the question after this very good story in the Denton Record Chronicle by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe that points out that while national rates of breast cancer are declining, they're climbing in the six North Texas counties that also happen to be host the most oil and gas production facilities related to Barnett Shale drilling. 

There's a lot going on here, including the fact that at least four of those counties are also directly downwind of the Midlothian cement plant plumes and DFW air pollution in general during most of the year – Tarrant, Wise, Parker and Johnson. There is a long list of "endocrine disruptors" and cancer causing chemicals emitted by both the gas industry and cement plants burning all kinds of solid wastes that could be contributing to these higher rates, as well as a host of other potential variables.  

 – in other words, the kind of old-fashioned reporting you just don't see in dailies anymore, so kudos to Ms. Heinkel-Wolfe and the Record Chronicle for pursuing it and publishing it.  It's already creating quite a bit of buzz in the online Shale communities. 

Scientists warn that chemicals may be altering breast development

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Exposure to chemicals early in life may alter how breast tissue develops and raise the risks of breast cancer and lactation problems later in life, scientists concluded in a set of reports published Wednesday.